Bloxham School, nr Banbury
Muddy says: Bloxham School is an impressive co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 in a pretty North Oxfordshire village, with a reputation for all-rounder education.
Bloxham School is a co-ed day/boarding for kids 11-18 in the pretty North Oxfordshire village of – where else? – Bloxham, about 3 miles south of Banbury. The school is long established, having recently reached its 151th anniversary, but unlike many public schools that started life as manor houses before ‘diversifying’ into education, Bloxham was actually custom built for the purpose. So though the neo gothic buildings, with later additions, are handsome, they are restrained rather than expansive. For this reason it seems at first glance that Bloxham doesn’t have much to speak of in terms of grounds – no sweeping wooded driveway to trumpet your arrival – but actually the school has a large 60 acres to play with, and when you think that the school only has 442 pupils (138 in the sixth form, 345 boarders in 6 houses), there’s a lot of space per kid.
For a small school, Bloxham punches well above its weight sports-wise (the current headmaster is a former Oxford University rugby player and outdoor education instructor), and there are some awesome sports facilities – 2 all weather hockey pitches, 2 squash courts, two fives courts, six netball courts doubling as tennis in the summer, and a 23m pool that reopened in Jan 15. There’s a modern sports hall with a groovy indoor climbing wall, yoga studio, gym, and fitness classes.
Rugby and hockey are the big boys sports, along with the more country pursuits of clay pigeon shooting (the school’s won the National title twice in the last three years) and riding (the school’s team were class winners at the NSEA National Championships). All of the kids take part in three coached sessions of sport a week, and 90% of them represent the school in competitive fixtures. Even for the resolutely non-sporty, there’s no escape. Where’s my little pony, I hear you cry? There’s no stabling at the school (though it’s available at a nearby yard) but kids can bring their mounts for twice-weekly tuition.
MUSIC, ART & DRAMA
The music building was redeveloped a few years back and now includes, as well as the usual practise rooms and class rooms, a music technology suite of 22 computers all running Sibelius 7 and Cubase 7, so your child can make his or her secret ambitions to be the first public school rapper or thrash metal star come true. Kids can do Music Tech for A-level here – my son would jump at that (it’s not offered at his school) so it’s good to see it here, though apparently there’s no take up this year.
Music is taken seriously here with a Musician in Residence and the chance for the best musicians to perform with the world class Adderbury Ensemble who happen to be based locally (I’ve listened to them loads, they’re amazing). There are subsidised lessons in the Lower School, and ensembles including Chapel Choir, Concert Band, String Orchestra, Jazz Band and Orchestra. The upshot? 20% of pupils took GSCE music this year – that’s HUGE. And 4 pupils are taking A level music. They’re doing something right.
Drama is particularly strong at Bloxham – there’s a huge take up for GSCE and A-level and the pupil I spoke to was super-enthused by it. Facilities-wise the Great Hall is fully tecked up for lighting, rowed seating for theatrical and music performances. There’s a cool stand alone art block too and a bright textiles room that looks out over the cricket pitch – Textiles is offered as an A-level and there’s no doubt that creative subjects are very strong at Bloxham, with Photography offered as a GSCE and Art a big calling card.
If you find Oxbridge success a useful yardstick, 3 out of the 4 Bloxham pupils entered gained places this year – about 10% of the cohort, so the standard of teaching is high. Class sizes are smallish at 15, and GSCE and A level results placed Bloxham comfortably in the dreaded league tables. However, Headmaster Paul Sanderson’s bread and butter at Bloxham is in stretching those middle-of-the-road kids who need a bit more help. There’s a lot of scaffolding in place to that end including a 6 week individual learning plan for every child, and a doubling of English and increasing maths tuition lower down the school. Nearly half the kids at Bloxham gained A*-A in their 2017 GSCE. In 2018’s A Levels A*-B grades rose by 12% with A*-A grades up 8% but the grades further down the food chain are not readily available, reflecting the school’s ethos of not necessarily selecting pupils on academic ability.
This is Paul Sanderson’s third year in the job, having moved from deputy head at Gordonstoun, and at 41 he’s on the young side for a secondary headmaster. He’s charismatic, that’s for sure, and seems very comfortable in his role.
A former Oxford University rugby player, he now referees school rugby matches, so he’s definitely ‘accessible’ for the kids. In terms of developing the school, he’s spotted a gap in the market for local children who want to access the best of Bloxham School but don’t need/want the cost of boarding, so he’s instigated a new day pupil house a few minutes down the road where kids can enjoy all the private school perks and still make it home for Love Island. There’s been some investment into the soft furnishings in the reception since my last visit – very calming, muted tones, a big improvement.
Bloxham lays its Christian credentials out proudly and openly, describing itself as a ‘Christian foundation school’ (though they welcome all faiths). The first five headmasters at Bloxham were Anglican priests, and Christian values pervade, though with only one chapel service a week (in a drop-dead gorgeous building) it’s hardly rammed down the throat. In terms of music, Bloxham has a groovy music tech department, providing a school radio station and allowing the kids to DJ at the school discos.
Senior school boarding (£11,225), Senior school day (£8,595), Y1-2 weekly boarding (£8,595), Y1-2 day (£5,995). Day House £5,725 (inclusive of lunch and snacks, but not breakfast or supper). All school fees include core curricular materials and activities, including day trips, and some whole-year activity camps. Overnight stays for Day Boarders are charged at £55 a night.
WRAP AROUND CARE
I checked out the boarding facilities which were modern, clean, basic – entirely average I’d say and what I’d expect to see in most boarding houses. Day boarders are allocated a study room in their House and can stay until 6pm or up to 9.45pm without booking in advance, or even sleep over if they wish. Day and full boarders co-exist peacefully here, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘some are more equal than others’ mentality amongst those who board full time. The new day facility – heavy on the orange (er, because the future’s bright?) – means local kids can stay for the long school day without having to board.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very positive. Parents like its nurturing, ‘all–rounder’ ethos. The perception is that the creative arts are stronger than sciences here at present. The pastoral care and communication with parents is apparently very good. One very sport-savvy dad claims that the boys sporting coaching needs some bolstering as the rugby team in particular is mid-tier at present, though he also said this is being addressed.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The mid-ability child who wants stretching. Kids who prefer a smaller, more ‘family’ style school, with a less hierarchical structure between the year groups. Parents who want their children to have the opportunity to join in at sport, music and drama – participation is widely encouraged. The school felt very creative and progressive to me, with its textiles and music tech A levels and great art facilities. The vibe of the school is very calm and resolutely not hot-housey, and all the children seemed very well behaved and happy.
Not for: The purely academic, or kids who are not ‘joiners’. Bloxham will suit kids who thrive as a big fish in a small pond, so it’s a personal call whether your child fits that mould or would benefit more from having to make their mark amongst greater numbers. If your child is a brilliant classical musician, be aware that the number or orchestral possibilities is limited by the cohort.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The next Open Morning is Sat 2 Mar 2019, and as ever, let me know your thoughts.
Bloxham School, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, OX15 4PE, Tel 01295 724341 bloxhamschool.com.